Thousands of words have been written about the scandalous arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah by the British government in what is being seen as an attempt to silence him at the insistence of the pro-Israel Lobby. Supporters of the Sheikh from all sides of the political and religious divide in Palestine and beyond have stepped forward to condemn Britain's action; Home Secretary Theresa May should hang her head in shame that she has been prepared to sacrifice goodwill for Britain across the Middle East to please the right-wing media and lobbyists for Israel.
As the phrase "pro-Israel Lobby" implies, this group of individuals and organisations carry out their nefarious work to promote Israel and its interests by influencing Western politicians and anyone else who will listen; the media is a favoured tool in this work and all too many journalists are happy to take the Zionist shilling and abandon their integrity in order to oblige. The Israel Lobby in the United States is, of course, well-documented and more or less controls Congress; witness the absurd spectacle of numerous standing ovations for Benjamin Netanyahu while addressing a joint session in Congress recently, and America's slavish devotion to and support for Israel, right or wrong. Theresa May's transparent-obsequiousness in pandering to the Lobby's whims a week ago by arresting Sheikh Salah suggests that Israel has decided that it is time to come out and flex its political muscles openly on this side of the Atlantic.
At the heart of the imbroglio is a man in his mid-fifties who is known as the "Gandhi of Palestine", much to the Lobbyists' amusement. They seek to portray Sheikh Raed Salah as a "hate preacher", an "anti-Semite" (even though he is more Semitic than many of his European Jewish detractors) hell-bent on destroying the Zionist state and all in it. Charges of blood libel have been levelled at him in Israel as well as in Britain; the strange thing is that in Israel he has been found not guilty of such ridiculous charges whereas in Britain there is an assumption that he is guilty – hence the mysterious, never-even-reached-him banning order – and deserving of being arrested, locked-up and, if the government gets its way, deported. As one commentator said, Britain is being more Israeli than the Israelis.
Sheikh Raed Salah was born in what he considers to be occupied Palestine, the land now known as Israel but regarded by Palestinians as "1948 Palestine"; the year is a reference to when Israel was created in historic Palestine – the Nakba (Catastrophe). Around 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has called the "ethnic cleansing of Palestine". The process to rid Israel of the 1.5 million "Arab-Israelis" has been carried on by successive Israeli governments ever since. It is this process against which Sheikh Salah has dedicated his life, particularly Israel's efforts to "Judaise" the city of Jerusalem and its Muslim and Christian holy places.
Despite being one-fifth of the total population of Israel, Palestinian citizens face institutionalised racism and discrimination of all kinds; in education, health and social welfare provision; in housing policies; in unjust residence laws in occupied East Jerusalem and the Negev Desert; in fact, in almost every sphere of life. Coupled with the aggressive policy of expelling (more ethnic cleansing) Palestinians from East Jerusalem and either destroying their homes or allowing illegal Jewish settlers to take them over, it is clear to most objective onlookers that the state of Israel treats its Palestinian citizens with barely-concealed contempt. No wonder that Sheikh Salah and his Islamic Movement in Israel, the largest political organisation representing the Palestinians in the Zionist state, feel threatened; and no wonder that he wants the world to hear about the "only democracy in the Middle East" and its downright racist policies.
The neo-Cons pulling the strings of the British government aren't interested in promoting justice for the Palestinians, though; nor do they want freedom of speech for anyone who can speak from first-hand experience and demolish the myths they peddle about Israel, Britain's supposedly loyal ally in the Middle East. Where do their loyalties really lie? What benefits does Britain get from being allied with Israel? Its murderous thugs used forged British passports to carry out a political murder in Dubai last year. Do the neo-Cons condone such action by our ally? Did any of them condemn Israel openly for using Britain in that way? How many British citizens with dual nationality do military service in Israel every year and are involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity of the kind alleged to have been carried out during Israel's invasion of Gaza in 2009? Imagine the outcry if British Muslims did two years service in, say, the Egyptian army; or served with international solidarity groups in the West Bank or Gaza Strip resisting the oppression of Israel's military occupation. They would be branded as terrorists, of course, another area where the media and politicians have bowed to Israeli pressure; legitimate Palestinian resistance to the military occupation of their land is labelled terrorism as a matter of course and discussion of the issue is a closed book.
Reports on the scuppering of Freedom Flotilla II claim that an Israeli law centre, Shurat HaDin, "a group with the stated objective of stemming the flow of money to terrorists… had been working for months to obstruct the flotilla by threatening legal action against any group that helped them in the US, Europe and Asia." This organisation, apparently, "wrote to insurance and marine service companies claiming they could be aiding and abetting terrorism if they provided insurance to flotilla ships." There, in a nutshell, is an illustration of the twisted logic which now prevails; anyone who offers humanitarian aid to Palestinians, wants to break Israel's immoral and illegal siege of Gaza by peaceful means or end the military occupation is "aiding and abetting terrorism" and serious sanctions can be expected to follow.
Shurat HaDin, "was initiated to fight for Jewish rights and safeguard the state of Israel" claims its founder. "Fighting for victims of terror was just one part of our activity. Fighting for Jewish rights, stopping the delegitimisation of Israel and preventing harm to Israeli soldiers are also important parts of our work." The notion that poor little nuclear-armed Israel needs a law centre to "safeguard" it is laughable but it's one that has been bought by politicians in the West happy to repeat the "Israeli security is paramount" mantra ad nauseam; and if human rights have to be jettisoned in the "fight for Jewish rights", who cares?
If one good thing has come out of the Sheikh Raed Salah affair, therefore, it is that the hypocrisy of the British and other Western governments which sit back and acquiesce in the face of such "lawfare" has been highlighted for all to see, yet again. States which trumpet democracy, peace and freedom are happy to overlook Israel's many transgressions and, as the Raed Salah case demonstrates, actually side with the oppressor in the process.
Israel and its lobbyists are working to portray the Zionist state as a benign force for good (a "bastion of European civilisation in a sea of barbarism" declared one early Zionist). Sheikh Salah, meanwhile, is obviously a threat to that myth with his message laying bare Israel's official racist discrimination and anti-Palestinian policies and practices which treat international law and conventions with utter disdain. Hence, he had to be stopped using the right-wing media and compliant politicians to do so.
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the pro-Israel Lobby is to be applauded, for it has revealed that a malignant fifth column is operational within Britain ready, willing and able to make the democratically-elected government do its bidding against all standard norms of justice. The arrest and possible deportation of Sheikh Raed Salah will, I suspect, be the first of many such incidents unless and until our politicians can be brought to account for surrendering the mandate given to them by the British people in exchange for acting as a branch of Israel's Likud and other far-right parties. It's that serious and is to be ignored at our peril if we truly want democracy to survive in the United Kingdom free of the Israel Lobby-led politics which dominates in Washington.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.